In an age of frantic hand-washing, the entire fabric of daily life has been disrupted and the Berlin-based couple Malou Pentzien and Intissare Aamri has found ways to ride the waves of this perseverant pandemic. Despite global precariousness, Malou, a German filmmaker, and Intissare, an Italian-Moroccan photojournalist have found ways to grow and dream. The creative duo has been together for more than two years and spent seven months collaborating in Panama City under a strict lockdown. Between decking out their new apartment and mapping their next destination, the couple interviewed one another about their work, life, their relationship in times of Corona and what it feels like to be alone, together.
Malou to Inti:
How has the pandemic changed your work approach in photography as a whole?
This unstable situation nudged me into redefining the notion of spontaneity.
In my opinion, photography is an art of observation, the camera was just a tool to frame an instinct, yet now with the empty streets and shielded faces, it has been dicult to feel inspired. The distance and the measurements applied by the restrictions enabled me to focus on my inwardness. I started to steer my curiosity towards new horizons and fields of work, to reevaluate old beliefs, like enrolling in a Master in politics and letting go of who I think I should be in order to bewhoIam.
I realized that despite the uncertainty raised by the pandemic, I was able to find its silver lining, which is that something good can come out of every crisis.
Panama was our first project together. I remember at the beginning of our relationship you said you'd never work with your partner. How has our experience changed your view?
That's true, somehow I always thought that my partners should not interfere in my creative workflow and that they wouldn't fully understand it. As soon as we decided to embark on this exciting trip to Central America, I realised that it wasn't simply out of love, but out of esteem for one another. This taught me that my prejudice towards collaborating with a partner was founded on the fact that I had never really been in love before I met you, and that I didn't trust my exes enough to produce something creative together. It's so funny how now we constantly ask each other's opinion on anything we create and spend evenings designing our new projects.
COVID-19 and the restrictions accompanied by it have forced us to become more introspective. Have you learned anything new during this time?
I learned to lose control and let go, not to obsess about other people’s expectations, but to find new perspectives and solutions. I learned the art of patience, of taking time to savour the little things in our ordinary routine.
I used to be a travel fanatic, not a month went by without planning a new destination, yet today I have a new appreciation of freedom and the privileges we had prior to the pandemic.
In what ways do you feel Corona has and will change the creative scene, and what would you like to see arise out of this crisis?
I think that the creative scene was initially hit by a hurricane of fears. Institutions and artists relied on people visiting and interacting, therefore this current instability has left the community in a state of standby.
But I think that this unexpected shake-up has now given artists the chance to dedicate themselves to unfinished projects and to reassess who really is supporting them in spite of the crisis.
I would like for wealthy individuals to invest in small foundations that are struggling to survive, to concentrate on minorities rather than mainstream characters.
How can street photographers stay creative when streets are empty during the lockdown?
I always had the inclination to capture strangers and communities from afar, but now I had to shue my viewpoint. Somehow I always ran away from narrating intimacy and portraying who is near me.
I realized this had something to do with my upbringing. This temporary immobility made me realize that it is paramount to record the adjacent environment, to give voice to local heroes, to
interview family members and take self-portraits. My advice is to see the beauty in the ordinary, to document the people who make an impact in your life and in your community.
Great things can come from it. Another piece of advice to stay creative is to share your work in digital platforms and to not wait for the time where the lockdown is over, as this is the new normal, and life goes on.
Inti to Malou
How did you feel about the isolation at first and how has your experience of it changed?
I was initially terrified of the lockdown. The deprivation of social activities, events, and friends was unthinkable. However, I feel the isolation was one of the best things that happened to me. It gave me room to look inwards and do all the work I had denied myself to, and I found time to be creative and try new things, rekindle old friendships and pause to think where I am heading. I structure my day with activities that give me balance and joy and at this point can't imagine it being any other way. The isolation has taught me independence.
Before I met you, your working subject was related to editorial and commercial purposes; how did the experience in Panama City with reporting and producing social-political matters influence your working process and inspiration?
I think I was always very aesthetic-driven. My projects were quite short-lived and I was constantly searching for the thrill of the new and comparing myself to others. I think our trip to Panama shifted my interest more towards people, their stories and telling them well. The project confronted me with my limitations but forced me to push my creative boundaries. I guess you could say I feel humbled and not so personally identified with my work anymore. I've stopped looking for myself in it and it has given me freedom of form and avoided much superficial distraction. I'm still practicing letting go of my perfectionism.
Do you think that in this time of social pause we can be more autodidact and what role does the digital world play in your life right now?
I definitely think that the deprivation of our "normal" lives and all the routines that come with it forces us to become more autodidact. You learn to fill the empty space with something else, and it's interesting because you become more conscious of what you fill it with (in my case painting, watching Masterclass or redecorating the flat).
The pandemic has me wondering what's next. I'm trying to combat the feeling of uncertainty by shifting my work life more online. It empowers me to not be tied to a workplace or a city, and it helps me keep inspired and free.
How did this state of immobility reflect on your practice of moving images and did your focus shift in the matters you want to unveil and navigate?
The pandemic drew me towards documentary filmmaking, reporting and telling stories. The new decade started tumultuously and I feel people are globally becoming more conscious and are less afraid to speak up against injustice. I had to reevaluate what I'm doing and ask myself what purpose I want my work to have. I will always see beauty in things and be an aesthetic freak behind the lens but I want to create work that educates, connects and resonates with people.
What are new qualities you discovered in me and yourself and which moments during this ongoing pandemic will you treasure?
You have become more vulnerable towards me. It makes me feel so safe and it has brought us even closer together. I feel I have become more resilient. We have gone through so many things since we are together, it never. I love how we have become more aware of the eorts both of us put into our relationship; from small notes of aection and surprises to cooking delicious meals. I treasure all the moments we create to make our days special.